By Danielle Farrow
Yet again, hyped up promotional information for the Fringe brochure gives a false impression about what looks to be a school production. True, there can be excellent school productions of Shakespeare’s plays, but they rely on cuts and direction that serves the abilities of the performers, as well as the play itself, and on performers whose skills have been well developed.
The main problem with the direction here is that physical comedy has been chosen over and above the actual comedy of the script, to the detriment of the play. These physical gags are sometimes poorly executed, usually badly thought-out and frequently overwhelm the real humour of the piece. Much Ado About Nothing has some fantastic wit and wonderful ‘Dogberryisms’, where a comic character is forever using the wrong words at key points – he was drowned out and up-staged by clowning that would be unbelievable even in a farce, though, when given space in later scenes, the audience did respond to the humour of his words. If only the other actors had credible responses too!
There are also two scenes that set up favourite characters, Beatrice and Benedick, where – again – badly staged visual gags took precedence over any genuine reactions, which is where the enjoyment of the scenes truly lies. Beatrice’s merriment – made much of in the script – is also sorely lacking, though the actress brought some truth to her pain and anger, and the actor playing Benedick showed strong connection to the thoughts of his character.
Basic acting problems were in evidence, with even main characters shuffling about a lot and making movements that were directed rather than personally motivated. This was the first performance, so the long waits – where cues for speech and for entrances were not picked up – might be eliminated during the run. There is live music, mostly from an accordionist, underscoring darker moments and aiding the occasional song and dance, which were competent.
Costumes, and hairstyles for the ladies, seem to indicate the 40s and were well-matched to the chosen design, which included French stereotypes for musicians and the Watch, here complete with fake French accents, berets, trench coats, etc. The idea of a sexy female Watch, all after Dogberry and in competition with Verges, could work, along with their deliberately bad disguises, if it were married to the text and more specific in its execution, rather than being hammered onto their main scene.
Those directing and teaching these young people need to trust their chosen script more, focus the physical comedy so that it supports the real humour of the play, and help the actors to connect to what they are saying in feeling as well as thought, though it did seem that there had been work done on knowing what the lines actually meant.
This Much Ado About Nothing is disappointing in that the hard work of those involved has not been focused and shaped well enough to support Shakespeare’s script.
18-23 August, 19:35 (20:25) @ theSpace @ Venue45